Germany appoints ‘pop star’ epidemiologist as minister of health

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Karl Lauterbach, epidemiologist trained in Harvard, with a penchant for red bow ties, he became a household name in Germany during the pandemic, wearing the Twitter and making television appearances to spur the rapid implementation of new ideas to combat the coronavirus.

As the new health minister of Germany, the 57-year-old Social Democratic lawmaker (SPD) will have to say more than words to a frustrated public — waiting for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s new government — to find a way out of the pandemic.

Germany, praised during the first wave of the Covid-19 by keeping deaths and infections relatively low, it recorded 527 deaths today in a fourth wave that has overwhelmed hospitals and forced authorities to restrict the unvaccinated.

Health officials welcomed Lauterbach’s appointment and said their first priority should be breaking resistance to vaccination in a country where only 69.2% of the population is fully immunized compared to 87.3% in Portugal.

“The main challenge he faces is convincing those who have not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated,” said Dirk Heinrich, president of the German association of doctors in Virchowbund.

“He has to motivate them with a positive campaign and a simple message: ‘If you get vaccinated, you’re doing yourself and the people around you a huge favor.””

the government of Angela Merkel was criticized for communicating with the public during the pandemic, which resulted in confusion and frustration.

Critics pointed to the government’s decision in October to recommend boosters for people aged 60 and over, contradicting a scientific committee that recommended extra injections for people aged 70 and over.

Lauterbach directed the government at the end of the summer to begin offering reinforcements, aiming for Israel, which in July became the first country in the world to launch a reinforcement campaign.

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In April, he pointed to studies showing the effectiveness of a single dose of vaccine in reducing hospitalizations.

As vaccine doses were scarce when they were first made available, he urged the government to extend the gap between the first and second injections to up to 12 weeks so that more people receive the first dose, a strategy first adopted in Britain .

His well-positioned, independent interventions and working-class conversation — which earned him more than 700,000 Twitter followers — have made him a credible voice among a public frustrated with the political elite.

During his first speech to staff at the Ministry of Health on Wednesday, Lauterbach said the management of the pandemic will be guided by scientific evidence, not political considerations.

“Health policy can only be successful if it is anchored in scientific evidence. Our main objective is to end this pandemic. Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) ​​said Scholz had no choice but to appoint Lauterbach as minister of health because of his “pop star” status.

“I think Scholz’s hope is that if Lauterbach is successful in managing the pandemic on a day-to-day basis, Scholz can focus on other government priorities,” Benner said.

“The alternative would be to have to live with Lauterbach as a parallel minister of heart health.” Germany’s vaccination campaign has increased in the past two weeks, with nearly a million vaccines delivered each day.

Benner said Lauterbach’s insistence on scientific guidance could put him at odds with colleagues in Scholz’s coalition alliance between the SPD and the pro-business Greens and Free Democrats (FDP).

The FDP in particular could oppose any future plans to impose tougher restrictions on daily life if the wave is not contained to protect a fragile economic recovery. Scholz’s bet is risky,” Benner said.

“Lauterbach knows that if he overshadows and upsets coalition partners and Scholz, it will be the end of his term.”

(Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt/ Edition by Mark Heinrich)

Reference: CNN Brasil

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